TAMARINDO, Guanacaste – Chainhotels and high rises have made the scene inTamarindo, one of the hubs of the northernPacific’s coastal jungle towns. But for thoselooking for personality and less formality,family-run hotels and private room units(cabinas) are still the norm.The brightly decorated charisma ofCabinas Arco Iris and the eccentric warmthof its Italian owners will be fodder enoughfor those vacation stories to which yourfriends politely listen.Brightly colored individual one-roomhouses covered in shades inspired perhapsby the jungle, skies and the legendary sunsetsof that coast are linked with paths ofhaphazardly placed colored blocks. Thepath is scattered with gravel, steps andseashells are embedded in the cement andamong the stones. Each house has its ownpersonality, painted, furnished and decoratedby sisters and owners Simona and LauraFilippini along with their friends and families.“When friends come to stay here forvacations we put them to work painting pictureson the walls,” Simona said.Each cabina has its own personality, onepainted crimson inside with a wardrobe andoriental fans on the wall behind, another ishung with large paper butterflies from theceiling. Stefano, Simona’s husband, is a carpenterwho makes clocks, frames, furniture,beds, wardrobes and has lent many of hisdesigns to the furnishing of the houses.“We go along making things little by little,”Simona said. One of the latest projectsis a bathroom hand-tiled in jagged andloopy shapes in one of the rooms –Simona’s quietly famous expertise.EACH was constructed around the treesto preserve them and provide natural shadefor the coast’s sunny days.Even their hospitality is creative – thereis no front desk or bellhop for your bags,but visitors who enter either from the stepsto the street or from a winding path alongtheir grounds are greeted with a shout fromtheir balcony or from inside their home.Sharing a mate tea with Simona on theporch of one of the houses, at a table sandwichedbetween the fiery painted wall and ahammock, it is obvious that she easilybefriends her guests. Sometimes she and herfamily serve dinner as a favor to guests theylike. They learn people’s names, joke withthem in English, Spanish or Italian.“People work all year for 15 days ofvacation,” Simona said. “You see it in theireyes that they’re happy, no stress. They’renot numbers like they are the rest of theyear. They are treated like people.”THERE is something to do here otherthan sleep and laugh at the owners’ jokes.They plopped a gym floor in the middle ofthe forest, but they don’t call it that, theycall it a dojo.The dojo dominates the cluster of housesand apartments. It is a large, woodenfloor under a rain-proof ceiling with nowalls, open to the breezy forest around.There, hundreds of feet have pranced balletsteps, sidled and twirled to merengue andsalsa beats, and launched off it in karate andkickboxing moves. Small groups of peoplepractice aerobics or one of two styles ofyoga nearly every day.“The dojo is very important. It’s analternative to the beach,” co-owner LauraFilippini said. She said the activities availablechange, evolving with the tastes of theinstructors and the consistent changing ofthe guard of those who live in town.They offer the space to the instructors todo what they want, leaving the courses,schedules and fees up to them.AFTER all that activity, or a day ofsurfing, there is a masseuse available whodoes house calls.Aerobic classes cost $5 each or $25 fora month, yoga costs $5 or $8, depending on the instructor, and massages cost $50 per hour.Rooms cost from $21-$41 depending on the season.Four double rooms, one family suite for three or four withtwo rooms and a kitchen, and three apartments for long-termrent are available. There is also a shared kitchen withall the utensils and coffee provided on the house.For info, call 653-0330 or visit the Web site atwww.hotelarcoiris.com.